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Macs dent the enterprise, but not by much

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Thanks in part to the corporate BYOD movement, Apple's AppleCare service and support plan, and just plain old demand, enterprises are more steadily adopting Macs in their organizations. Those factors, coupled with Apple's partnership with IBM to develop a set of business apps for the iPhone and iPad, are leading Apple to make strides in the enterprise. That said, industry observers don't believe Macs will be overtaking PCs anytime soon.

"Really, they're making strides because users are demanding them and organizations want to be able to say 'yes' more than in the past,'' says Michael Silver, a research vice president at Gartner. It's part user satisfaction, "and costs have come down, depending on the model you look at."

Compared with a high-end Intel-based notebook, Apple's pricing for a MacBook Air can still be fairly competitive, he says. But even with the efforts Apple has made to be more enterprise-friendly there are still a number of critical Windows apps users need to run, which Silver says continues to be an issue. This is particularly true of infrastructure software on the server side, with which the end-user machines need to be connected, such as Active Directory.

Gartner's worldwide device shipment forecast indicates that PCs are still in demand. In 2015, 251 million units of traditional PCs (desktops and notebooks) were expected to ship, compared with 49 million ultramobile premium devices, which include Windows 8 Intel x86 products and MacBook Airs. However, the number of PCs is expected to decline to 243 million units in 2016 and 233 units in 2017, while ultramobile shipments are anticipated to rise to 68 million units in 2016 and 89 million units by 2017, according to the firm.

"If we are talking about the enterprise market, Apple has not been doing extremely well there,'' notes Rajani Singh, a senior research analyst at IDC. "It has a very loyal consumer base, but enterprise is where Apple has to pick up little bit." Between 2011 and 2014, Apple sold between 3 million and 3.3 million commercial units in the U.S., according to IDC.

"Moving forward we are expecting some growth in the single digits, but it will not be dramatic in the U.S. enterprise or commercial segment,'' Singh says of Macs. "It will be small and steady."

She attributes that to the fact that Macs are still expensive, noting that a Mac notebook can cost over $1,000. Lack of user experience with the OS X operating system is another hindrance since Windows-based devices have been the standard in the enterprise for so long, according to Singh. "The last thing any employee would like to do is add another layer of stress by learning a new operating system,'' and have to take training classes, she maintains. "The U.S. enterprise segment is extremely conservative and doesn't want to experiment with new operating systems; they like to stick with what they have."

This is also the reason why Windows 8 didn't do well, Singh adds, since it was too different from Windows 7. However, she expects Windows 10 to be a game changer because its functionality and user experience will be similar to Windows 7.

Users "want to upgrade to something better, but they don't want to change form factors and operating systems,'' says Singh.

Freedom to choose

Even so, many organizations say they are offering Macs to employees as another option in addition to PCs.

Career site CareerBuilder.com introduced Macs into the enterprise about two years ago after previously offering them primarily to staff doing creative work, says CIO Roger Fugett. Today, of about 2,850 employees 22% use Macs.

"In the early days we leveraged the ability for choice as a way to attract and retain top talent, primarily around the engineering side," Fugett says, so software developers and engineers would be able to have a say in the type of tools they could use. "Giving employees a choice is what moved it forward, and then we offered Macs to any employee at the time of hire."

When they first started offering employees their choice of device, Fugett says, he was surprised by the number of people who were already using PCs who turned to Macs -- including engineers -- a move he attributes to the fact that so many people use Apple devices outside of work. About 70% of IT people use Macs.

However, there are some types of work where Macs are not a good fit because of "dependencies on software that doesn't play as nice," Fugett says. But for the most part Apple is getting better with interoperability "so Macs are not something we're trying to keep out."

Parity with Microsoft Office is a challenge, he notes. For example, PowerPoint doesn't have the same feature set on a Mac as on a PC. "If I try to develop a PowerPoint with certain animations it doesn't work the same on a Mac -- it's easier on Windows," he says.

But custom apps that used to be developed strictly for Internet Explorer now support multiple platforms, he says.

Fugett doesn't believe Apple is doing much development around business applications and says CareerBuilder remains a Windows shop. "There is nothing really that Apple has triggered to drive more adoption internally. There's definitely things they're doing that help with our IT support for Macs -- and how they continue to innovate around machines and battery life is what drives more adoption."

Apple has become better at addressing some of their challenges, namely, a Wi-Fi connectivity issue CareerBuilder was struggling with, which Fugett says had to do with drivers. Even though vendors were "pointing fingers" at each other, Apple helped them work through it, he says.

Apple also released its Device Enrollment Program (DEP) for the enterprise, which he says pushes updates to users' machines automatically. "That will allow us to get to the point where, if a new employee selects a Mac, they get it shrink-wrapped" and will only have to open it up and connect to the CareerBuilder store. "DEP allows us to configure what we need it to do, so all the software specific to CareerBuilder is on there."

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